Campus, town agree on measures to improve public safety this spring

Campus and town officials agreed March 21 on a set of measures to improve public safety this spring, including funding for two additional ambulances, joint police patrols and a joint, police mobile field force designed to prevent large-scale disturbances.
“The university is committed to working with the town to ensure that the safety and civility of our shared community is protected,” said John Kennedy, vice chancellor for University Relations. “Today’s announcement that we are devoting additional resources to help alleviate the burden on the town’s first responders is part of an ongoing dialogue between the university and Amherst officials that is intended to find creative solutions to the challenges we’re confronting together.”
John Musante, Amherst town manager, said, “This is vital assistance from the university, and it will make a real difference in protecting the safety of our entire community. I applaud the responsiveness of UMass officials in providing concrete support to address this critical immediate need, and I appreciate their commitment to working with the town to find new solutions to ongoing challenges, for this spring and for the long-term.”
This spring, the university will pay the town about $40,000 to increase the number of town ambulances in service from three to five, providing the Amherst Fire Department money to increase staffing on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays. The additional ambulances will address concerns that the town is left vulnerable when its ambulances are transporting intoxicated students from campus to Cooley Dickinson Hospital in Northampton.
Starting in April, joint patrols by the UMass and Amherst police forces will be conducted on Friday and Saturday nights in Amherst neighborhoods, providing four additional officers who will be highly visible to deter unruly behavior and respond to residents’ concerns. The joint patrols will pay particular attention to the Fearing and Phillips streets neighborhood and the North Amherst area. In addition, the mobile field force will be deployed during selected weekends in April, with up to 10 officers in a police van assigned to anticipate large gatherings and break up parties before they become too large or troublesome.
The university and the town are also exploring additional measures, which may include expanded hours at University Health Services. However, because of regulatory hurdles and funding challenges, any changes at UHS will not be adopted this spring and are being looked at in the long term. The funding for two additional ambulances is designed to provide immediate assistance to address the town’s resource concerns.
Today’s measures will supplement the annual financial support paid by the university to the town for ambulance calls. The parties’ Strategic Partnership Agreement includes a per-call formula for ambulance service. In fiscal 2012, UMass Amherst paid the town $363,718 for ambulance service per the agreement.
Kennedy noted that an Ad-Hoc Committee on Town-Gown Relations within the university, headed by Nancy Buffone, executive director for External Relations and University Events, helped to develop today’s proposals during the past few months. The group will continue to identify ideas and share them with town officials and community leaders.
Fundamental to a long-term solution, Kennedy said, is addressing the underlying issues related to bad behavior. “We’re working hard to educate our students to be good citizens, and we will continue to explore innovative approaches to this difficult problem,” he said.